Sunday, 25 August 2013

Leadership... a tale of two leaders: Helen Clark & David Shearer

Being a leader is not something everyone is born too.  Sometimes people have natural leadership ability by nature.  Others are nurtured into the role as people around them see their potential.  Some try bloody hard to be a leader, but are dismal.  Some are thrust into the role unexpectedly due to turns of events and are surprised by what they can achieve.

On Thursday evening I attended the Inaugural Dr Rufus Rogers Lecture, at the University of Waikato, that featured Rt. Hon Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008) and current United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) head (since 2009).

I have to say that at the beginning of the night that the ladies and I that I attended with were like a bunch of groupies buying the book, getting Helen's autograph and attempting to get the perfect photo.  Helen, if you're ever reading this, my apologies!

But in our defence, Helen is truly a leader we admire.  The first elected female Prime Minister of New Zealand (remember that though Jenny Shipley was the first female PM, she was not elected in the role, but pushed Jim Bolger out of his) despite rocky times in her six years as the leader of Labour as the leader of the opposition, she held on for grim death; she was a solid Prime Minister during her time in the office; and she is genuinely interested in people and engages with them at the most interesting levels.

This I know personally.  The first time I met Helen was in a lift of a hotel in Wellington in the holidays prior to the 1999 election.  The NZEI president had instructed us not to be late back from lunch as Helen Clark and Trevor Mallard were arriving as our guests straight away.  I was born late, and have been late ever since, so it was kind of inevitable that I would be that day, and that I would share a lift with Helen and Trevor.  To make matters worse, I name dropped Helen's sister Sandra, as I worked with her in my first year as a beginning teacher.  Helen was extremely gracious.

The next time I met Helen was during our school camp in 2004.  We were booked to do the education visit at Martha Mine as part of our camp.  We had no idea that the Prime Minister that day was also visiting, along with Basil Morrison (then mayor of  the Hauraki district) and Helen's parents (among others).  The children and their parents were very excited when Helen and her entourage came into the education centre.  It was a big surprise.  Helen went around the room and talked to the children about what they were doing, signed autographs, and agreed to one girl's request for a photograph together.  It turned out, after all the fun things we had done, to be the highlight of the camp for many of the children.

Recently there was a two part documentary about Helen Clark screened on TV3 as part of their Inside New Zealand season.  It talked about the struggles she had in the initial years with low polling for both Helen and the Labour party, but it explained how she held onto the leadership (by releasing her "inner farmgirl") and built the party back up to almost winning the 1996 election, and more so to win in 1999 (by forming a coalition).  Essentially, after surviving a coup from some of her closest friends in Labour, she put most of them in front bench roles, and kept them very busy and very close.

Tonight Helen discussed how she got the role of head of the UNDP, what the role entails and the challenges of the role.  A friend in London had suggested that she apply.  Helen scoffed at first, not believing that she had the required experience... but her friend then pointed out all the skills she had used as the Prime Minister and how those were similar skills to the job available.

Inequality has increased significantly in the last thirty years, and Helen commented that it is a huge issue in addressing poverty and environmental issues.  If you do not address inequality, you can not minimise or eliminate poverty.  The UN had developed the Millennium goals in 2000, one of which was to halve poverty.  This goal has been achieved, but Helen pointed out that was fine if you were in the half that had risen out of poverty, not so if you were in the halve still in poverty.

Unstable nations that have difficulties in maintaining stable government or exist in Helen Clark's agenda.  She made comments on the situation in the Central African Republic (which I had to google as I wasn't sure where it was - it's between Cameroon and South Sudan), Mali, Egypt and Syria.  She talked about the impact of climate change with the increase of extreme weather events, the impact of natural disasters and how as an international community we help with this.

And this is where Helen believes that resilience is a vital value and trait for people to have.  She said that it starts with having strong families and consequently strong communities.  Helen credited her loving parents and family for her values and community involvement, and that helped shape what she has achieved.

Helen set the standard for being the leader of the Labour party.

Thursday was also the day that David Shearer announced his resignation as the leader of the Labour party.  He had been in the job since December 2011 after being elected by the Labour caucus of MPs.

David Shearer came into parliament by winning the by-election for the Mt Albert seat vacated by Helen Clark when she took up her new role with the UN.  Shearer had been working with the UN for the previous twenty years give or take.  Shearer had been "working for the UN, managing the provision of aid to countries including Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq."  (Wikipedia)

Shearer came into the leadership as a "clean skin" so to speak.  He was not tainted with the Rogernomics era of Labour or known for being part of the Clark era.  Due to his background of working in some of the most challenging hotspots in the world, it was hoped that he would bring strong leadership and challenge John Key in the leadership stakes.

What followed was one step forward, two steps back.  Shearer would make a speech or policy announcement that would be greeted favourably (one step forward), but then not follow up, muff a sound bite for the news, be ineffective in the house (two steps backward).  The polls went up and down each time for Labour, but were never convincing, and Shearer's personal polling as preferred prime minister was always dismal.

Rumours abounded frequently about how stable his leadership was, who was about to challenge him and that he was on notice from senior MPs.  Before the annual conference in 2012 the rumour mill was in overdrive that David Cunliffe (who lost out to Shearer in December 2011) would be challenging Shearer for the leadership.  He denied it and pledged his allegiance to Shearer, only to be outted for how far his challenge had proceeded, be lambasted by Shearer and fellow colleagues, and then be relegated to the back benches by Shearer.

However decisive this move by Shearer appeared, his position still did not look solid.  He did not seem to have that "inner farmgirl" to unleash and bring the party in behind him in a united fashion.  In fact the party appeared to have no unity.  Last month when Duncan Garner tweeted that a colleague of his had a letter from an anonymous party source claiming Shearer was on notice was big news.  Everybody across the political spectrum had something to say, including Shearer who told reporters to "read my lips" and "I will be the Labour leader in 2014".  The letter did not materialise and Garner was rubbished as scare mongering and criticised for leaving a colleague hanging.

Yet a month later, it appears that a delegation of senior MPs visited Shearer and let him know that things were not good at all, and please do the decent thing.  Consequently we had Shearer's resignation.  He did it with dignity and it demonstrated that he has humility.

"I have been privileged to lead the Labour team for the past 20 months and I'm proud of the gains we have made in that time.
"But we need to do more. So the time has come for me to hand over to a new leader who can take Labour through to 2014.
"There was no letter, there was no ultimatum, there was no vote. But from the soundings I've taken from colleagues I realise I no longer enjoy the confidence of a number of my caucus colleagues,'' Mr Shearer said.
"After spending the last 20 years of my life leading humanitarian and reconstruction projects overseas, I came home to New Zealand because I'm passionate about this country.
"We have a history to be proud of, but I believe our best years lie in front of us. But to really take this country forward, we need a change of government. We need a progressive government with fresh ideas.''  (NZ Herald 22/8/13)

What followed were wonderful endorsements of his character and humility from across the house, more so from his own MPs who were not united behind him after all.  The compliments about Shearer being a great guy with humility and compassion and a hard worker are all true.  However,  Te Ururoa Flavell of the Maori Party said it aptly when he said it was probably inevitable.  And Hone Harawira (Mana) said he always found Mr Shearer to be "very very friendly and very open''... "I think that was probably his downfall - nice guys don't last long in this game.''

Unfortunately, David Shearer has failed to meet the standard

Now Labour is about to vote in a new leader, using a new system.  The caucus will make up 40% of the votes, party members 40% of the vote and affiliated unions will make up the remaining 20% of the vote.

As I write this, Grant Robertson has put his hat in the ring, as has Shane Jones (according to Twitter), and it is highly expected that David Cunliffe will do the same.  They have until Monday 26 August 10:00pm to put their names forward for contention.  It will be mid September before we have a result.

Grant Robertson is the current deputy leader and has be accused, by John Key, as undermining Shearer throughout their tenure as the leadership team.  Robertson has been the MP for Central Wellington since the 2008 election.  He has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Overseas Aid Programme.  He then became an advisor to the Labour government from the early 2000s.  Robertson has seemed a very solid party man in his time in the house.

Shane Jones is a list MP for Labour who has been in parliament since 2005 and was the Minister for Building and Construction from October 2007 till the 2008 election.  He has had a couple of controversies, but is considered to be an articulate and knowledgeable MP.

David Cunliffe is the MP for New Lynn and has been in parliament since 1999 and was the Minister of Communications and Information Technology from 2002-2008 and Health Minister from October 2007-2008.  Since December 2011 he has been considered at possible leader, but has also been a divisive figure in the party, with some colleagues apparently starting a club called The ABC Club (Anyone But Cunliffe).  Since his demotion to the back benches in November 2012 he has been seen to be playing the party line.

While Andrew Little (list MP since 2011) and Jacinda Adern (list MP since 2008) have said they won't be entering the leadership race despite a poll showing that they were on the radar of the voting public as a potential Labour leader.  Whether or not they consider themselves too young in parliament experience or life in general, it is probably a wise move at this point.

All the people above have excellent education and credentials.  They all make great politicians and have leadership qualities, but the question is, "Who has the X-Factor?"

Whoever does have the X-Factor to win the race to being the Labour leader will need to have and do the following in my opinion:
  • unite the party - Labour doesn't need to be squabbling amongst themselves for the next year; we need them to show that they can beat John Key and National at their own game.
  • be able to do a sound bite with confidence for the 6 o'clock news - it's all about looks in this game.
  • be a good debater in the house - put John Key, Steven Joyce, Judith Collins and the rest back in their box please!!
  • keep your friends close and your enemies closer - keep your enemies very busy in key jobs so they don't have time to mischief make.  It worked for Helen Clark, and maybe that's why Steven Joyce has so many ministerial responsibilities (just throwing that out there in case JK and Joyce aren't as close as everyone says).
  • keep close tabs on what everyone is doing - Helen did, that way she minimised surprises and everyone kept on top of things.
  • put out good policy (especially dumping National Standards and getting rid of Charter Schools) and back it throughout the party - you need to show that you can be the next government.
  • connect to the New Zealand public at many levels - get out there and meet the people and be involved in as many events as possible.  Shearer did do this, but it has to also mesh with how people see you on the tv fronting issues.
  • everytime National does something dumb, use it - honestly, National has had some right regular stuff ups in the last year, but no hay has been made while the sun shines for Labour when these stuff ups happen.  You should be all over those stuff ups like shit on a blanket (to be blunt).
  • watch that doco about Helen and learn from her example of how to stick to it, unite the party, and get the public onside.  Pay particular attention to the part about when there was almost a coup against her before the 1999 election.
  • meet the standard of being a leader - we need you to do your job because this is a democracy.

Monday, 12 August 2013

First Home Buyers are the Political Football.

I think almost everyone can agree that New Zealand has a housing crisis.  In Auckland housing affordability and supply is an issue.  In Christchurch supply is in hot demand, and this also affects affordability.  But for many first home buyers it is being able to get onto the home ownership bandwagon that is difficult.  The above barriers are part of the problem, and saving for a deposit is the third barrier.
I am a first home buyer. I've been looking properly since January in a rural Waikato town.  The limit, if you are accessing KiwiSaver funds and Housing New Zealand's as part of your deposit, is a house costing $300,000 in the Waikato outside of Hamilton city.
I admit I am picky.  I want at least a 700m2+ section so I can have a vege garden and fruit trees (sustainability and knowing where your food comes from springs to mind).  I want a house at least 120m2 (I hate small spaces and I'm thinking to the future).  I want a house with indoor/outdoor flow (or at least the potential).  I want a kitchen with generous bench space, a good oven (preferably with fanbake) and a dishwasher space (I have my own). I want a wicked shower (long hair needs good pressure).  I want a safe place for my cats, free of mean dogs and vehicles that will squash them.
If I'm going to spend in the high $200s I don't want there to be things that still need doing that cost lots.  If it's going to be in the low $200s it has to have location and great bones.  I want a house with the X factor. Hardiplank properties need not apply.
I don't want much (ha ha), but I do want a house I'll love living in, because once I have mortgage, I won't have a life, so I'd better like like hanging out at home!  But finding the right house at the right price - that is the challenge!!
It concerns me greatly that my pre-approved mortgage term is rapidly coming to an end.  It worries me that I haven't found a house and that the Reserve Bank is beating its chest repeatedly over an over inflated housing market.  The Reserve Bank wants banks to cut back on lending to people like me who do not have a 20% deposit.
On Sunday John Key announced National's new housing policy.  It comes into action on 1 October.  In some cities and regions they have upped the top cost of a house for those buying using their KiwiSaver and HNZ subsidy.  But not in the Waikato (outside of Hamilton).
They expect you to have a 10% deposit.  For a $300,000 house that means I'd need a $30,000 deposit.  I'll be at least $7,000 short currently. 
The newspapers claim that Auckland is the big winner out of National's latest housing policy.
But I feel for those purchasing in the Auckland market.  While it is great news that they are pushing the house cost up from $400,000 to $485,000 for Auckland first timers, the government (typically) has moved the deposit goal posts, because an Aucklander will need $48,500 at least for their deposit.
Labour of course have said that the government has come up short with its tweaking without addressing the drivers of the housing problem.  The Greens are calling the policy "poly filler".  Even first home buyers are saying that they doubt the changes John Key is bringing in will make any difference to the situation.
There are some good reasons for that.
Currently Auckland needs 30,000 new homes built each year to keep up with the population that requires housing in Auckland.  However, only 4,000 houses annually are currently being built.  That's well short of what is required.
In Australia they give each new first home buyer (on application according to criteria like here) $7,000 to put towards paying for their new home.  In some states they offer an additional $4,000-$8,000 if it is a new build.
Is anyone actively encouraging new builds in New Zealand?
It is a bit hard with developers land banking and councils dragging the chain on consents for new housing developments (which National has announced changes to combat this).
Then there are the supposed overseas buyers coming in and buying up our housing stock to rent out, or the property "mum and dad" investors that have been encouraged to build up their "housing portfolio" who snap up house after house.
We have a shortage of state houses.  Once upon a time a state house was usually accessible for the average family.  Not now.  It is well documented in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch (especially since the earthquake) the number of families double bunking with other families, living in garages or living in one room at a boarding house due to the high cost of market rents and availability of rental accommodation. 
Recently David Shearer and several Labour colleagues did a tour of empty state houses in the wider Wellington city region.  There has been a 40% increase in vacant state houses since the beginning of the year.  Yes some are damaged, some don't meet the earthquake code... but maybe these should be a priority to be fixed.  It seems that Housing New Zealand and the government are dragging the chain on ensuring there is sufficient housing for those in need of it.
National's Amy Adams announced as part of the budget an injection into social housing of $16.4 million.  However when we have councils selling their social housing stock it negates any gains and causes bigger problems.
I think what we have here is a lot of chest puffing over how to solve the housing problems we have in New Zealand, but no one has hit on the silver bullet. 

But as a first time buyer, what I would like to see is that we are treated fairly and not as the political football we are currently.  But right now it is just a cloud dream for too many of us first time buyers.

Friday, 9 August 2013

I just opted out my health details from the Cloud.

On Monday July 29th 2013 all your health details held by your GP went live in the Ministry of Health's new Cloud storage system.  You have a National Health Identity Number under which your details are stored.

This system will store the basics of your information:
  • name
  • date of birth
  • address
  • contact details
The above details will be available for anyone authorised who accesses your details on the cloud.  This is what the receptionist at your GP can see.

What else will be stored on the cloud:
  • your allergies
  • medications you take regularly
  • medications you've taken for specific illnesses
  • your clinical history broken down into categories
The people who can access this are the practice manager of your GP medical centre, or any other centre or hospital facility, any doctor or nurse.

So this begs the question, just how safe are your details?  Who can and can't look at them?  When can they look at them?  What happens if someone accesses your health details without proper purpose?

The first security issue I have in regards to the Cloud is hacking.  The Midlands DHB has been telling their medical centres that your data on the cloud is as safe as your banking details.  Hmmmm.  Have they not heard about Nigerian princes?  Have they not heard about people skimming peoples' credit cards through Eftpos machines, ATM or even a gadget that can scan your credit card details as your credit card lies idle in your wallet by walking beside you in a shopping mall?

My second security issue is in regards to the people who should ethically access your clinical record for reasons directly related to your care they are responsible for, not for "joy riding" purposes such as the following.

We are all aware of the case at Auckland Hospital of the man who was admitted with an eel somewhere it really shouldn't have been and the resulting disciplining of staff who accessed his clinical records and how it went viral in public.

And the Jesse Ryder incident in the Canterbury DHB was topical.  People from throughout the organisation, from Christchurch to the West Coast were checking out his clinical record.  Seven people were consequently disciplined for their unauthorised accessing of Ryder's clinical record.

Of course New Zealand organisations don't have a great track record of privacy in the last few years, thinking of.... ACC (numerous occasions), MSD (aka WINZ), IRD, the defence forces and the Ministry of Education (through Novopay) have all had some sort of privacy lapse in various guises in the last two or three years.

Which leads us to the whole who else could access our personal health data and how could they use it.  We all saw Paula Bennett access the details of two WINZ clients and use their details when they criticised her cutting the benefit that got Paula to where she is today.  We all saw how Hekia Parata replied to teachers, who expressed their concern as private citizens and parents over the class sizes issue in 2012, by CCing the replies to their principals and BOTs.  And we saw how Bronwyn Pullar was treated when she exposed the privacy breaches at ACC and that a year after she alerted ACC to their breaches they have continued to happen.  And there was that case of the police man who was married to a woman engaged in a custody battle with her ex-husband who accessed the police database to find out some dirt.

So what is to stop a government minister using their powers to access an individual's health record to use it against them?  Or an insurance company somehow gaining unauthorised access?  Or possibly even your employer?  Perhaps a psycho ex?  Maybe even your employer?  All they have to do is know someone who can access the data as part of their job who isn't very ethical.  And if you are a government minister, I guess you have the SIS and GCSB to do their dirty work.

So did you know this was happening?  Did your medical centre inform you that your records were heading to the Cloud?

Probably not.  I did a google search and nothing came up in the news media.  Medical centre staff from two different clinics have told me that they have concerns for privacy.  The training they received from Midlands DHB clearly said that they should not promote the knowledge that the data is now to be stored in the Cloud and not to leave opt out forms in open view of clients.  My doctor didn't even know that patient data was to be stored in the Cloud and had to check with the practice manager when I told her I wanted to opt out.  They only had four forms given to them by the DHB, and I was the third person to request to opt out in the first two weeks.

Clearly the DHBs have not met the standard on informing patients about their data now being stored in the Cloud.  The DHBs have also not met the standard on informing patients about their rights to opt out of the Cloud to protect their privacy.

The DHBs have failed the standard.  They can only hope that the cartoon below doesn't apply to them in the coming months and years.